New Zealand destinations ruined by social media
What people are prepared to do for the ‘Gram.
Recently shared photographs of people queuing to get their picture taken atop Roy’s Peak in Wanaka sparked a flurry of comments on social media, with many lamenting that travellers these days just don’t have their priorities straight.
“Is this what adventure is coming to?” one Instagram user asked. “Happy snappers everywhere on the social media merry-go-round.”
“Yes, this is the reality of beautiful pictures on social media,” another replied.
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“I guarantee you at least half of these pics will end up being used on dating apps,” one Twitter user mused.
“This really upsets me,” said another. “What is wrong with these people?! If I hiked all the way up and finally got to this view, I would just stare and cry and be thankful I got to see it, smell it, feel it and breathe it!”
Tomas Alfoldi, who shared a video of the queue on Roys Peak, said he was surprised how many people were up there as the track had just reopened for the season.
“I expected a lot of people because Roys Peak is one of the most popular places, but not so many people waiting just for a photo,” the 26-year-old Slovakian, who is in New Zealand on a working holiday visa said:
“Honestly, I don’t understand why this place is so popular… maybe its a “sheep effect”. There is much better place, I mean with much more beautiful view, just half an hour away… and empty.”
Alfoldi said he seen tourists essentially taking the same photo in “a lot” of places throughout New Zealand, “but this was the first time I saw so many waiting in one spot”.
He is generally in favour of sharing travel photos on social media as they inspire and motivate others to visit, but he is concerned about the impact on locals and the environment.
“The most famous places are totally overtouristed and polluted. And the worst is that tourists care more about likes, views and [their] following on social media than the places they visit. They travel just for photos and likes and that is really sick and wrong. We have to find some balance.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Conservation told the BBC that visitors to Roy’s Peak had increased 12 per cent to 73,000 between 2016 and 2018 because it had become a “quintessential icon for the Wanaka region through social media”.
But it’s far from the only New Zealand icon to look peaceful and postcard-perfect on social media and like a queue for the post office – or a rugby scrum – in real life.
Here are five other places that have sadly proved too photogenic for their own good. Oh, and just a suggestion for avid picture sharers: Why not shake up your followers’ feeds a bit with places they haven’t seen a gazillion times already and consequently probably never want to see again? If I see another picture of a woman in a flowing dress at Cathedral Cove, I might just have to delete the app for good. If I can curb my own photo-sharing addiction that is…
Church of the Good Shepherd
Modest as it may be, this cute wee church on the shores of Lake Tekapo has caused a hell of a lot of trouble for the once wee high-country village.
Aside from being pretty, it also happens to be situated beside an expansive, milky blue, snowcapped-mountain-backed lake. Where colourful lupins bloom in the summertime and snowflakes make it look like a scene from an advent calendar in the winter. As if that weren’t bad enough (for lovers of peace and quiet at least), it’s located in an International Dark Sky Reserve.
All of this has not escaped the notice of New Zealand and international tourists and, as we well know, tourists these days do not feel they have really visited a place until they have photographed themselves in it. And shared the pic with their social media networks.
In a few short years, Tekapo has become a major stop on the international-tourist trail, especially for the growing middle-class Chinese market. Visitor numbers to the wider Mackenzie region have doubled since 2012, with guest nights increasing 20 per cent in the past year alone – and much of that growth is in Tekapo. While the church doors were once open 24-7, the influx of visitors has led the church to lock the doors at night and hire guides (who really double as security guards) to remind visitors not to rattle or burst through them mid-service. Or during a wedding or funeral.
What you won’t see in the photos are the crowds jostling for the best spots, the car, campervan and tour bus-crammed carpark, the toilet paper in the main streets…
Queuing for the bog when you’ve been on the road forever can be excruciating at the best of times, but you’d better hope you have pelvic floor muscles of steel if you’re caught short in the vicinity of these public loos in Kawakawa.
Designed by Austrian-born artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser, the toilets are the Northland town’s star attraction and visitors certainly take their time inside ensuring they have the perfect shot.
If you’re looking for a journey of Lord of the Rings proportions, best steer clear of the Tongariro Crossing. You’re not going to feel it’s man – or woman – versus wild when you’re in a conga line of hundreds shuffling along at the slowest person’s pace.
One TripAdvisor reviewer, who did the crossing over Easter in 2016, said “I think there were hundred of people or maybe even thousands that day. Just too crowded. Forced to go really slowly at bits where the paths narrow and becomes a bottle neck.”
The alpine crossing has capacity for 600 people a day. Beyond that, research has shown, the experience suffers. And that’s putting it fairly mildly.
The only way you’re going to get a human-free shot of the rock archway that provides a perfect frame for the beach is if you head there in a thunderstorm. Even then, you’re probably likely to stumble upon a few particularly dedicated influencers determined to get “the shot” complete with lightning bolt.
The cove’s cameo appearance as the tunnel through which the kids first re-enter Narnia in The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian movie didn’t help matters.
The place can feel more like the setting for an outdoor music festival than a magical kingdom these days.
That Wanaka Tree
For a spindly specimen with a kink in its trunk, this willow tree sure gets a lot of attention – it’s considered one of the most photographed trees in the world and appears on t-shirts, shopping bags and other tourist paraphernalia.
Further proof that location is king, the tree’s social media superstar status is pretty much down to its exclusive position in Lake Wanaka. If it were located in the town centre, chances are no one would give it a second glance.
Like so many human superstars, the tree has become a victim of its own fame. Queenstown Lakes arborist Tim Errington warned in January that it has been damaged by tree climbers and could die if people don’t let it be.
“It gets open wounds, same as us, and they are entry point for infection,” he said.